Editor's note (11/7/13): Find the entry point and new posts of Bob Grumman's M@h*(pOet)?ica at http://poeticks.com/
I've always loved music, believing with Nietzsche that without it, life would be a mistake. And I have dealt with it in poems of mine going back to the following, which I included in my 1966 collection of visual haiku, poemns:
It happened that I had several such poems all in a file because I'd gathered them for a competition the Aldrich Museum in Connecticut was running, the winners getting to attend some sort of week- or month-long seminar having to do with the nexus of music and visimagery (my term for visual art). In spite of the indifference of the Aldrich to my pieces . . . no, make that because of that, I'm using this entry to expose them again to evaluation, hoping this time my evaluators will prove perceptive. Let me know if the Aldrich Museum was right--back-channel, if you don't want to go public with your view (which I promise not to reveal).
Two people have expressed approval of my "Seaside Mathemaku," the first of the music-related long-division poems I have for you, so it may well be my most popular long division poem.
It is one of my woozier efforts--intentionally, I claim, for wooze is mainly what it's about.
I almost want to leave it at that. But, like Pound, I'm an inveterate village explainer, so have to go on to tell you that the commocean that's a large although underlying (and quiet) part of the poem is wooze, and the word, "dreams," is almost a synonym for "wooze." And look at how the coloring woozes out an opening into whatever it is that the poem is about. I would ask, took, is any of the arts is closer to pure wooze than music? Finally, right at the center of the piece is "yesterday": or where the present dissolves into wooze.
Okay, that's just one person's initial take on the poem. The fact that it's the take of the poem's creator is irrelevant. All that counts is how much sense it makes. I think it makes pretty good sense but I would never argue that no one else's initial take could not be as good--or better. Note that I'm speaking of initial takes--what the surface of the poem may be thought to be about to someone pleasantly dipping into it without a huge need rigorously to conquer it.
I hope, however, that such a person will notice interesting details that tilt him into a greater seriousness about the poem. The antique spelling of "music," for instance, to distance it from the present . . . as the sail is distanced spatially from the here, to allow the multiplication of the two plausibly to yield something close to the unreturnably distant "yesterday."
Note: I was hearing the McCartney song when I put "yesterday" into my poem, but that was far from the only reason for it.
The commotion/ocean seemed to me a reasonable product of the sail and "musick" because flowing, swirling, ever-changing like music, and both large and eternal, which music is--not to mention its being, for me, "nocean"-ethereal. The distant sail is a lesser term mostly important for specifying something sailed on--i.e., a body of water--but something for people, something explored or simply traveled over, with a wind over it and at least one dot of color on it.
But the poem is concerned much less with the whole ocean than with a bay of it . . . becoming secret near human habitation, or so the hint of a cave suggests to me. A peculiar nocean of the past, or a yesterday, but the nice thing about a yesterday is that it can be almost anything, including an oceanful of varied memories and thoughts--and dreams of pirates (and their gold!) that must be added to the commotion/ocean to get "yesterday."
I would never argue that my interpretation is not subjective. I can only hope it achieves plausible subjectivity.1
Poem number two in my series is more straight-forward.
If we explore it from the bottom-up, which is legal, we see that I am claiming that love/ good health/ strength/ virtue/ energy/ romance added to the blue design equals music. A little background might help that make more sense than it probably will at first. The grid over the abstract-expressionist painting is taken from a Mondrian painting, "Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red, 1921"2 (modified for employment in my poem):
So, for me the commotion/ocean of music is thus kept mathematically from chaos by a geometric painting. With the mathematical logic coming from the long division's divisor, mathematics, and its commotion from its quotient's weather.
Of this I will only tell you that the quotient quotes part of a famous poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (so acting ekphrastically!), and that I mean my poem in part to be a paean to creativity (something able to restore a dead song to life. . . .)
Another ekphrastic poem is next, my "Long Division Poem for Gertrude Stein":
Here it is again in pieces to make important details easier to see, beginning with what is to be divided:
Music--but with a sunrise (or sunset), or non-musical term, to be played, as non-mathematical terms are multiplied and divided, and added or subtracted in my long division poems. I say taking the sun as a morning sun makes much more sense because of its placement at the beginning of a piece of music. The larger context the rest of the poem supplies also supports this.
Here's what I divided it by:
Not a rose but a dictionary definition of "rose."
I regret to confess I can't remember the title of the painting above, which I stole for my quotient. I'm not even sure who painted it, but think it was Braque.3 Otherwise, it was Picasso. The main thing is that it was an example of the kind of painting Gertrude Stein (and her brother Leo) were famous for collecting and championing--and which, I believe, helped give Gertrude the confidence she needed to create poems like here "rose is a rose is a rose." It's also a great painting, and I'm not above using anything I can to attract appreciation.
Anyway, my poem states that the definition of the rose multiplied by the cubist violin, or whatever it is:
Remember the quotation from Hopkins? Apt here, yes?
Going overboard as usual, I suggest that Stein's rose is, with the addition of the world, continuing, (musically, shall we say) equal to a sunrise (in the continuing world it's in).
I'll try not to spoil my last two poems here with too much explanation. Both of them contain a G-clef sign, something I use all the time as a symbol for music--but also to indicate that a song will begin. I think I only use the valentine heart as a symbol more often. All I add about the first is that I hope the orange popsicle will be enough to narrow most interpretations of it to what Saturdays mean to childhood--or did to the boys I grew up with during the middle years of the last century.
Here's a hint for figuring out the quotient of "Falling Asleep": look at the poem above it. I often re-use elements of one poem in another. Cross-allusiveness is my goal, I claim, but I have to admit that it's a good way to escape the work that 100% originality requires. The only other thing I'll say about it is, "Shame on you, if you don't recognize the phrase I stole from Keats." (It's from "Ode to a Nightingale," which I consider one of the hundred greatest lyric poems in English.4)
1 Because there's always someone at a poetry reading who is annoyed with poets who try to explain their works on the grounds that a poem that needs to be explained is no good, I thought I'd defend the practice--at least for poems that are difficult because of the unconventional way mathexpressive poems are. The simple reason explanation is in order, and should in some cases be required of the poet, is that it is only fair. Why? Because conventional poems come pre-explained! That is to say, schools begin teaching conventional poems--simple rhymes, for instance--as soon as children begin formal education, and continue to do so throughout college, even to students not majoring in English. And PBS programs on poetry, large-circulation magazines and commercial presses publishing poetry as well as poetry critics with readerships of more than a hundred help them by re-explaining it.
Almost no one is doing that for the many sorts of unconventional poetry there is (and there's lots more than mathematical poetry--visual poetry, certain obscure kinds of language poetry, and cyber poetry, to mention just a few). So I will continue yapping about my poetry, and hoping others making nutso poems will yap about theirs. (Not that one can't go overboard. All I can say is that I sincerely try not to go too overboard!)
2 I hope at least a few of you who have been here before will remember what an ekphrastic poem is.
3 I'm not pleased with myself that I apparently never wrote down what painting this was, but I figure some scholar will find out if the poem is ever considered important, and if the poem is never consider important, what difference does it make?
4 Even counting all my lyric poems!
Previously in this series: